Behind us, the door boomed, making me jump. “That won’t hold them for long,” I said. My gaze fell on a pew lying a few feet away, and I started toward it. “Zeke, help me move this! We have to brace the door or they’ll break it down in a few minutes.”
Zeke blinked, then shook himself out of his trance. “No,”
he said, stopping me. Gently placing the book on a pew, he turned, eyes hard. “We can’t hole up. There’s no time. This was just to give us an out, to slow them a bit. Follow me.”
He turned and jogged across the room, weaving around pews and rabid bodies, toward the makeshift barricade in the corner. Puzzled, I followed, Kanin close behind. Jackal snatched an oil lamp that had been lying, remarkably unbroken, on a pew, before trailing after us.
A massive blow echoed through the church, and the door bowed inward. Rabid faces peered through the crack, vicious and snarling, their claws and fangs starting to rip the wood to pieces. I hurried after Zeke, hoping he knew what he was talking about, that there was another way out of here.
Behind the barricade, Zeke ducked into a short hall and opened the door at the end, revealing a set of narrow, wooden steps, twisting up into darkness. “This way,” he urged, and disappeared through the door. I was right behind him, following the stairs as they spiraled upward through a stone tower and ended at a wooden ceiling with a trapdoor. Zeke pushed it back, and we scrambled into a tiny open-air room. Above us, a large brass bell sat silent and dark, and through the curved stone windows, I could see all of Eden spread out below.
“There’s the power plant,” Zeke said, pointing to a scattering of lights beyond the city. A set of massive smokestacks rose skyward, looming over the buildings and billowing white clouds into the air. “The lab is right next to the—”
A crash from below warned us that we were out of time.
“Quickly,” Kanin said, taking command, and leaped from the tower into the branches of the single huge tree sitting beside the church.
“Go, Allie,” Zeke urged, and I went, getting a running start before flinging myself off the edge of the tower. For a second, I could see the church directly below my feet, and a huge horde of rabids surrounding it, swarming through the door. Then branches filled my vision, and I grabbed at the first one I saw, clinging desperately as it swayed and gave an ominous groan, but didn’t snap.
Pulling myself up, I looked back for the rest of our party.
Zeke was at the edge, preparing to jump, but Jackal hadn’t moved from the open trapdoor. He still held the oil lamp he’d picked up earlier, and as I watched, he raised it over his head and flung it through the opening. There was a faint crash, and Zeke whirled at the noise.
“Jackal, what are you doing? Come on!”
A hiss, and a tiny flame appeared between Jackal’s fingers.
For just a moment, it flickered over his sharp features and the evil grin spreading across his face, right before he dropped it through the hole. There was a sputter, and a bright orange glow flared to life through the trapdoor.
The shrieks and screams coming from within suddenly took on an alarmed note. I looked down to see several rabids shoot out the building, clawing frantically at the rest of the horde to get free, before skittering off into the darkness. Smiling, Jackal kicked the trapdoor shut and sauntered up to join Zeke, who was glaring at him with unmistakable menace.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“Hey, it got the rabids off our backs, didn’t it?” Jackal’s grin was insufferably smug as he stepped to the edge of the tower.
“I would think you’d be grateful, puppy. Kill some rabids, burn down a church—I don’t see a downside here, do you?”
And he leaped to the branches before Zeke could respond.
Zeke snarled at him, fangs bared, but he jumped off the roof as well, landing beside me on the narrow limb.
“Come,” Kanin murmured when we had all converged in the tree. Below us, the rabids had all but fled, slipping back into the ravaged city, while smoke trickled out of the bell tower and the first tiny flames began to flicker through the windows. “We’ll take the rooftops as far as we can,” Kanin went on, nodding to the edge of an apartment building beyond the fence. From here, it would be quite the jump, but we could make it. “Hopefully we can circumvent the rabids and any other surprises Sarren has left us by avoiding the streets. Let’s go.”
He turned and walked gracefully down the narrow branch, as easily as he would the sidewalk. Jackal pushed himself off the trunk and started to follow, but Zeke paused, casting one final glance at the doomed church, a flicker of sorrow and guilt crossing his face. I reached out, gently brushing his arm, and he turned back with a pained smile.
“Sorry.” He drew back, turning away from the church, though his face was still dark. “Just…memories. I spent a lot of time in that building after we came here, praying for guidance, asking where I should go next. It’s also one of the few places where I got to see Caleb and Bethany and the others.
They’d attend Sunday morning service, and sometimes their parents would invite me home, just for the afternoon. All the other days, I’d be so busy at the lab, working with the scientists, I didn’t see much of them at all.” He sighed, glancing back once more, watching the flames flicker through the tower windows. “Lots of memories there. It’s hard to see it all burn.”
“It’s just a building, Zeke. It can be rebuilt.”
“Yeah.” Zeke nodded and turned away. “You’re right. It’s just a building.” His voice grew stronger, more determined.
“Eden can be rebuilt. We can start over. We just have to make sure there is a new beginning to look forward to.”
We came to the end of the branch, Kanin’s and Jackal’s dark silhouettes waiting for us on the nearby roof. Zeke went first, leaping into the air, farther than any human could hope to accomplish, landing easily on the other side. I gathered myself and followed, my coat flapping behind me, feeling a momentary thrill as my body propelled itself through open space and hit the edge with room to spare.
Kanin took the lead again, and we moved quietly over the rooftops of Eden, heading toward the huge billowing smokestacks in the distance. I walked next to Zeke, watching him from the corner of my eye. His expression was grim and determined, but composed. Given the state of his home and all the horrors he’d seen and been through, I thought that was pretty remarkable. I hoped it wasn’t just a stoic front, a serene mask like the one Kanin wore all the time, and in reality he was about to fall apart. His city, his home, was in shambles, and everything he knew had been turned on its head. I knew what that was like, all too well.